If you’ve ever cheated on your diet, you’re definitely not alone. Eating plans are tough to stick to, especially on busy days when ice cream and cookies look oh-so-tempting. But if you want to avoid slipping up again so you can reach your weight-loss goals, your best move just might be admitting to someone that you cheated.
New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that people who admit to losing self-control with food might help them resist temptation in the future. Here’s the caveat: It depends how guilty these folks feel about cheating. Researchers conducted a series of five experiments on consumers of all ages related to self-control failure — four of which concerned food and one which concerned money. They asked participants to consider a moment they lost self-control, to consider admitting the slip-up, and then to consider their behavior afterward.
“Most research on confession examines either religious contexts or criminal ones,” said researcher Kelly Haws in a press release. “What we wanted to look at was the consequences of confessing everyday lapses of self-control — the kind of instances where the only person you fail is yourself.”
Researchers found that in high-guilt scenarios, the act of confessing predicted increased self-control for participants the next time temptation arose. However, in low-guilt scenarios, confession actually led to worse self-control. So researchers say an insincere confession might actually takes away any benefits of accepting accountability for your actions. Psst: It’s worth mentioning that “confessing” doesn’t simply mean confessing to yourself, or even to your cat.
“If you just wrote your confession on a piece of paper and tore it up, it wouldn’t work,” Haws said. “You need to know that someone else might see it.”
While guilt can be an icky feeling, it can also be helpful when it comes to bringing your actions closer to where you believe they should be. Researchers say this type of honest confession may actually be empowering once we feel inspired to do better the next time. In the case of a diet, this might mean opting for whole fruit instead of slice of pie when you feel your sweet tooth coming on.
It just goes to show — a little sincerity can go a long way!